tue, 27-oct-2009, 06:18

Snow on the road

Snow on the road

We got 2 inches of snow yesterday (October 26th), so the wait is finally over.

I made the mistake of riding my bicycle to work yesterday, as the snow was falling. It wasn’t too bad on my way in to work, but by the time I left, more than an inch of snow had fallen and the roads hadn’t been plowed. I do have studded, knobby tires on my bicycle, but they’re don’t work very well in situations where the snow is deeper than the tread. I managed to stay upright the whole way home, but it was some white-knuckle, one-wheel drive bicycling.

Note: Yesterday’s first real snowfall was the 8th latest in the 62 year historical record I have access to for the Fairbanks airport station. I'm not sure where the statistics reported in Tuesday’s newspaper came from.

tags: bicycling  iPhone  snow  weather 
thu, 16-jul-2009, 15:30

Yesterday I looked at how wind might be affecting my bicycling to and from work. Today I’ll examine the idea that Miller Hill is confounding the effect of wind on average speed by excluding this portion of the trip from the analysis. To do this, I include a bounding box comparison in the SQL statement that extracts the wind factors for track points. The additional WHERE condition looks like this:

ST_Within(point_utm, ST_SetSRID(ST_MakeBox2D(ST_Point(454861,7193973), ST_Point(458232,7199159)), 32606))

The same ST_Within test is used in the calculation of average speed for each of the trips from work to home. After compiling the wind factors and average speeds, we compare the two using R. Here are the updated results:

lm(formula = mph ~ wind, data = data)

     Min       1Q   Median       3Q      Max
-1.87808 -0.55299  0.04038  0.62790  1.19076

            Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)
(Intercept)  16.8544     0.2176  77.442   <2e-16 ***
wind          0.3896     0.2002   1.946   0.0683 .
Signif. codes:  0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05 ‘.’ 0.1 ‘ ’ 1

Residual standard error: 0.9445 on 17 degrees of freedom
Multiple R-squared: 0.1822,     Adjusted R-squared: 0.1341
F-statistic: 3.788 on 1 and 17 DF,  p-value: 0.06834

This time around the model and both coefficients are statistically significant (finally!), and “wind factor” is positively correlated with my average speed over the part of the route that doesn’t include Miller Hill and Railroad drive. It’s not a major contributor, but it does explain approximately 18% of the variation in average speed.

thu, 16-jul-2009, 07:08

Cycling with the wind

Cycling with the wind
Photo by ~BostonBill~

I decided to look at wind a little more deeply after yesterday’s bike ride home. It seemed clear to me that the wind was strongly at my back for much of the route. It wasn’t my fastest ride home, but it was close, and it didn’t feel like I was working all that hard.

Here’s the process. First, examine all my bicycling tracks individually, using PostGIS’s ST_Azimuth function to calculate the direction I was traveling at each point. The query uses another of the new window functions (lead) in PostgreSQL 8.4.

    point_id, dt_local,
        lead(point_utm) OVER (PARTITION BY tid ORDER BY dt_local)
    ) / (2 * pi()) *360
FROM points
ORDER BY dt_local;

Then, for each point, find the direction the wind was blowing. This is a pretty slow query, but I haven’t found a better way to compare timestamps in the database to find the closest record. This technique, based on converting both timestamps to “epoch,” which is the number of seconds since January 1st, 1970, is faster than using an interval type of operation (like: WHERE obs_dt - POINT_DT BETWEEN interval '-3 minutes' AND interval '3 minutes').

SELECT obs_dt, wdir, wspd
FROM observations
WHERE abs(extract(epoch from obs_dt) - extract(epoch from POINT_DT)) < 5 * 60
    AND wspd IS NOT NULL
    AND wdir IS NOT NULL
ORDER BY abs(extract(epoch from obs_dt) - extract(epoch from POINT_DT))

Now I’ve got the direction I was traveling and the direction the wind is coming from. I wrote a Python function that returns a value from –1 (wind is in my face) to 1 (wind is at my back). The procedure is to convert the wind directions to unit u and v vectors and get the distance between the endpoints of each vector. The distances are then scaled such that wind behind the direction traveled range from 0 – 1, and from –1 – 0 for wind blowing against the direction traveled.

def wind_effect(mydir, winddir):
    """ Returns a number from 1 (wind at my back) to -1 (wind in my face)
        based on the directions passed in.

        Remember that wind direction is where the wind is *from*, so a
        wind direction of 0 and a mydir of 0 means the wind is in my face.
        mydir = float(mydir)
        winddir = float(winddir)

    my_spd = 1.0
    wind_spd = 1.0
    u_mydir = -1 * my_spd * math.sin(math.radians(mydir))
    v_mydir = -1 * my_spd * math.cos(math.radians(mydir))
    u_winddir = -1 * wind_spd * math.sin(math.radians(winddir))
    v_winddir = -1 * wind_spd * math.cos(math.radians(winddir))
    distance = math.sqrt((u_mydir - u_winddir)**2 + (v_mydir - v_winddir)**2)
    factor = (1.41421356 - distance)
    if factor < 0.0:
        factor = factor / -0.58578644
        factor = factor / -1.41421356


Finally, multiply this value by the wind speed at that time, and sum all these values for an entire bicycling track. The result is a “wind factor.” A positive wind factor means the wind was generally at my back during the ride, negative means it was blowing in my face. Yesterday’s ride home had the highest wind factor (1.07) among trips since June. So the wind really was at my back!

Can “wind factor” help predict average speed? Here’s the R and results:

$ R --save < wind_from_abr.R
> data<-read.table('wind_factor_from_abr',header=TRUE)
> model<-lm(speed ~ wind, data)
> summary(model)

lm(formula = speed ~ wind, data = data)

     Min       1Q   Median       3Q      Max
-0.90395 -0.46782 -0.04334  0.40286  0.85918

            Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)
(Intercept)  14.7796     0.1471  100.48   <2e-16 ***
wind          0.4369     0.2875    1.52    0.147
Signif. codes:  0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05 ‘.’ 0.1 ‘ ’ 1

Residual standard error: 0.5522 on 17 degrees of freedom
Multiple R-squared: 0.1196,     Adjusted R-squared: 0.06784
F-statistic:  2.31 on 1 and 17 DF,  p-value: 0.1469

Hmm. Not a whole lot of help here. The model is close to being statistically significant (although it’s not…), and it’s not very predictive (only 12% of the variation in average speed is explained by wind factor). However, the directionality of the (not quite statistically significant) wind coefficient is correct. A positive wind factor is (weakly) correlated with a higher average speed.

Thinking more about my route from work, I suspect that the route is actually two trips: the trip from ABR to the bottom of Miller Hill (4.8 miles) and the two mile trip over Miller Hill to our house. I’ll bet that wind becomes statistically significant if I only consider the first part of the trip: wind doesn’t have as much effect on a hill climb, and after making it over the top, the rest is a bumpy, gravel road where speed is determined more by safety than wind or how hard I’m pedalling. I think this might also resolve the question of why the ride home is so much easier than to work. It’s not because I’m glad to be out of work or because I’m carrying a lunchbox full of food to work, it’s because it’s downhill from ABR to the bottom of Miller Hill.

tue, 14-jul-2009, 21:17

Route to work

Ride to work

It’s interesting riding the same route back and forth to work every day. I have a perception that the wind is always in my face, and wondered if maybe the wind tends to be going one direction in the morning, and another in the afternoon when I’m riding home. Despite the fact that riding home seems much easier than riding to work, the wind always seems stronger.

If you look at the little map of my bicycling route from work on the right, you can see that the major portion of the trip is in a northwesterly (to work) or southeasterly (from work) direction. The long stretch that’s north/south is Miller Hill, and wind doesn’t really matter on that section of the route because it’s a steep hill. The color of the dots indicate speed from blue (slow) to red (fast).

I took a look at the wind data from our weather station for the days I bicycled to work; for the two hours before and after each ride on those dates. The weather database has a binned summary of wind direction (each row in the table shows the number of five-minute observations where the wind was blowing in a particular cardinal direction) and an average speed. I multiplied the two for each hour during my rides, and then summed them over all my rides this year. The plot below shows what the data looks like.

And, for reference, the SQL query, data set and gnuplot script. It took me forever to figure out how to make gnuplot make a histogram of this data.

Wind direction, to and from work

I was right about it being windier on my ride home from work. But, my perception that the wind is always in my face isn’t right. In both the morning and afternoon, there are two predominant wind directions, northwest (which would be at my back on the way home) and south-southeast (in my face). This is one of those cases where I notice when the wind is in my face, but when it’s at my back it doesn’t register.

At some point I’ll have to see if there’s any relationship between my average speed and the wind. At least then I’d have something to blame when I arrive at my destination with a slow time.

tags: bicycling  weather  wind 
sun, 27-jul-2008, 14:23

Swimming hole

the swimming hole

Once again, I’ve neglected my blog. My new job, the pressures of getting all our work done this summer, and the rest of life has kept me away.

Events: We’ve taken to swimming in the Creek. During the warmth of early June (which hasn’t returned since…) the Creek temperature rose to 65°F, and swimming was actually quite nice. I’m hoping we’ll get a few more warm days before fall so we can swim out there again.

Projects: I’ve made no progress at all on the new shed, but have repaired the bridge and got our digital antenna installed on the roof. I also replaced our chimney cap with the variety our chimney sweep prefers. Things left to do: Build the shed!, repair the glycol line that keeps the septic pipe thawed, fix and insulate the sewage treatment plant discharge pipe, reinforce the shed roofs, obtain and chop two more cords of firewood, install a heat shield behind the wood stove, get curtains for the two large downstairs windows and the sliding glass doors, and (finally) consider hiring a plumbing and heating company to replace and upgrade our system.

Books: I’ve read quite a few. Here’s a summary judgement on each:

  • McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Volume 26: Enjoyable fictions, interesting format, no real standouts for me.
  • The Rest is Noise: Fantastic look at the music and history of the 20th century. Alex Ross is one of my favorite New Yorker writers and this book doesn’t disappoint.
  • Ambitious Brew: Interesting history of beer brewing in the United States. It dispels many of the classic beer myths (the most classic being that the big super-brewers ruined American beer, only to be “saved” by the micros), and tells a great story. Prost!
  • Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name: A very enjoyable book with a very memorable female lead. Vida has a great abbreviated and expressive way of writing that was refreshing.
  • The Echo Maker: I’ve been looking forward to this one for so long, that I think the reading of it couldn’t be anything but a disappointment. I enjoyed it as a meditation on brain injury, but I felt like the characters were a little overwrought and stiff.

The rest: Andrea continues to progress toward her goal of running the Equinox Marathon. She’s out running sixteen miles (16 miles!) right now. I’m super proud of her. Meanwhile, I’ve been bicycling to work almost every day (13 miles round-trip) and the two of us are working toward doing 100 push ups in six weeks. Maybe by the next photo of me in the Creek, I’ll be ripped.

Probably not…

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